Blessed are the peacemakers


(system) #1

By Alexander Carpenter

A low level discussion about the proper Adventist response to war has emerged at the MLK: Speak for the weak and Chomsky posts.

Already "liberal socialist" has been trotted out as both an epithet and a badge of honor. I'd like to break open the debate about the proper Christian response to war. And since it's tax season, let's talk about the money.

Spectrum community member Arlyn asks: "how then shall we act? How to be peaceful in a new paradigm of terrorism? How to defend our civilians without killing others? . . .I need to hear real answers too, Jesus' way for governments to proceed in a sinful world. How can America die on it's cross? unpack this please."

While there exist many approaches to arguing that war is counterproductive and immoral I've chosen to kick off the discussion by looking at the material cause for war. These discussions can get bogged down in so many ways and so I want to emphasize what lies behind the rhetoric. Johnny kicked us off helpfully with former GOP president and five star general Eisenhower warning in 1961 about the growing military-industrial complex.

While everyone agrees that war is evil, often the debate in Christian circles centers on the definition of just war. The argument gets trotted out that at least WWII was moral because the Allies were defeating the Axis. But this short circuits the logic of moral action and neglects the history of Christian fetishization of power that aided in Hitler's rise. There's a great book called Theologians Under Hilter (1987) and now a documentary of the same name (2005) "that introduces the viewer to three of the greatest Christian scholars of the twentieth century: Paul Althaus, Emanuel Hirsch, and Gerhard Kittel, men who were also outspoken supporters of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party." A review in Religion and Ethics Daily notes:One of the documentary'€™s strengths is its presentation of the Deutsche Christenor German Christian movement that came to prominence in the 1920s. It championed a radical, nationalist agenda that merged church and state to the point of draping a swastika on the church altar. . . .Doris Bergen of Notre Dame University. . .points out how the Deutsche Christen movement thought the church had become too feminized and sought to portray the institution as young and virile." Here it's essential to note two classic moral compromises that lead to fascism. Equating patriotism with religion and supporting gender inequality in institutions. Frankly, one of the best things humans can do for peace is support more pacifist women in power.

While this little YouTube video editorializes a bit much about the Nazi collusion of the Lutherans (note the misunderstanding about the Confessing Church), it's essential to note that the majority of the Protestant, Catholic, and yes Adventist leadership stayed silent during the rise of the National Socialist party and failed to object to Hitler's creation of a military-industrial complex for war. Here's a little rule of thumb, the more pro security a candidate the more likely the nation will go to war unnecessarily. And it will be called self-defense. One of the biggest misunderstandings about just war theory is what actually is just. I'm sure that if someone asks, Ron, who is a scholar on the topic, will shed some light.

Here I'll get back to discussing belli causi.

Fact: the number one drive for war is increased profit. It's not humanitarian; it's not self-defense; it is an outgrowth of the the military-industrial complex which threatens our spiritual well-being and frays the very fabric our our society, according to Eisenhower.

Now let's take an example: the Iraq war that a majority of Americans supported. The Iraq war has turned out to be surprisingly expensive. You and I have already spent $500 billion on it with another $100 billion supplemental awaiting Bush's decision this month. The 2008 budget for the first time will include Iraq war money. Thus far, this entire war has been funded outside the budget. In caring for the 25,000 wounded Americans and continued reconstruction costs, the total is currently projected around 1,000,000,000,000. To put that in perspective - in inflation adjusted dollars, WWII cost 2 trillion. And we got three dictators, and faster.

As Eisenhower states: "This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. . .we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."

Therefore, while the Iraq war is only one example it is not the exception, but is the future of conflict. In Korea we had to draw down troops and Viet Nam and we eventually will in Iraq. That's three wars without victory. Then why do we fight? Certainly there are geopolitical reasons, but let's not miss that history lesson of modern wars in which people die while military contractors increase profits. We now have in place a war machine on which millions of Americans depend for their livelihood. Over 41 percent of our taxed money goes to the defense department. According to the Stockholm International Peace Institute, "The USA is responsible for 48 per cent of the world total [military spending], distantly followed by the UK, France, Japan and China with 4-5 per cent each."

This a graph on our next US community budget. The Bush administration has proposed over $650 billion for the Pentagon, compare that to$32 billion on education. The X in the graph above is the amount of money that disappears into old weapons systems and nuclear stockpiles. That said, it's essential not to mix our moral arguments about war. Since the sixties, the moral clarity that Christians should oppose war has been hijacked by the corporate interests who depend on the military-industrial complex to survive. Thus, what causes war? One of the major factors is the collusion between private corporations and military spending creates war to make money. War is not self-defense. Self-defense is creating the moral climate that resists bellicosity and limits the kind of corporate and military meddling in other countries that creates terrified ideologies that attack back. International institutions and peace provides lasting national security, not wars on socialism, on drugs, on Iraq/terrorism. Of course the comment section may turn into a place where people toss around hypotheticals, do you support this or that? But first we need to address the root causes for war. It is not national defense or democracy - it is profit. If Adventists can understand and short-circuit this Ouroboros of military and industry feeding each other our church just might recreate a culture of conscientious objection. And actually save souls - not just win them.

Over at the Center for American Progress, Scott Lilly writes: "As a young soldier in the early 1970s, I prayed every morning that I would not come down on orders€ for Vietnam and would not be placed in a position where I would have to shoot at people who posed no plausible threat to me or my country. I was extremely angry and frustrated with the President and Congress for not putting an end to a mindless conflict that was disrupting my life, causing the deaths of so many innocent people, and wasting resources so desperately needed for real problems facing our society at home.

But I was almost as frustrated by the mindless antics of many opposing the war who did little more than harden the resolve of the war supporters and dissuade those who might otherwise have become war opponents. They provided a perfect foil for Richard Nixon, who had run out of explanations to justify the continuation of the conflict. Nixon turned the debate over the war€ into a debate over the war movement€ a bait-and-switch that helped him rally support even among people who had growing reservations about what they witnessed each night on television.

To this day, I think those who insisted on injecting arguments about drugs, sex, personal hygiene, and respect for law into the debate over Viet Nam prolonged the war (perhaps by years) and, as a consequence, contributed to the deaths of hundreds and possibly thousands of my fellow soldiers. That is a lesson that anyone engaged in a struggle to build a coalition large enough and strong enough to change national policy should remember."

Suddenly being respectable meant supporting unnecessary killing and a crook. Let's not let that happen again. . . We can have conversations about social issues - since those choices are linked - but first we need to establish our moral clarity on war. You do. As Adventists. As followers of Jesus. Our tradition is conscientious objection, but we have neglected to take that seriously. In reclaiming our witness for peace, every Adventist in every country can use his or her power to stand, vote, write, talk, pray, create, preach, work - a global witness that we object to war.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/4287